When the 2013 Sunset League baseball season opens Friday, it will mark the first time in 29 years that Ron LaRuffa has not led a league team into the title race.
LaRuffa resigned Feb. 12 as head coach at Fountain Valley. He guided the Barons for the past 15 years through league wars, taking them to seven Sunset League championships and CIF Southern Section crowns in back-to-back seasons, 1994-95.
Prior to Fountain Valley, he was the head coach at Edison for 13 years. He took four Charger teams to four league titles and his 1981 squad ended the season with a CIF Southern Section championship game appearance.
Deric Yanagisawa, a former Baron was a coaching assistant to LaRuffa at Fountain Valley, is the new head coach of the Barons.
You might call it a title shift for LaRuffa: although he stepped down as head coach, he is still part of the Fountain Valley staff and coaches the defense.
"I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to take over the program," Yanagisawa said. "I'm excited and looking forward to the challenge of continuing the success of Fountain Valley baseball. No one will ever replace coach LaRuffa. He's built this program to what it is today. Coach LaRuffa has been an instrumental part of me being here and having this opportunity."
LaRuffa has been a head coach at the high school level for 31 years. It began in 1973 at Boron High, continued in 1975 at Colton and a year later, he took over the Edison job.
He also coached for 10 years at the collegiate level.
"I had been thinking about resigning and turning the program over to Deric [Yanagisawa] all year, LaRuffa said. "It wasn't a hasty decision. The wear and tear of 42 years of coaching had taken its toll. The head coaching duties of scheduling, fund raising and field maintenance — and other administrative duties, weren't fun anymore."
LaRuffa said he "delegated" many duties to his coaching staff in the past few years, and those duties remain the same. In addition to his coaching the Barons defense, Yanagisawa is in charge of the offense, assistant coach Chris Sorce works with the pitching staff, and assistant coaches Mark Wishek and Garret McFaul handle the outfielders and practice organization, respectively.
"I would not have resigned two weeks before the season if I didn't think this would be an easy transition for the players," he said. "Nothing has changed in practice or games, as far as the athletes are concerned. Our 6-0 start attests to that."
The 1994-94 Fountain Valley teams became the first teams to win back-to-back section titles. The '96 Barons nearly made it a three-peat by reaching a final, but lost in the title game. Yanagisawa was a catcher on that '94 title team, and the Barons went 14-1 in postseason play over the three-year span.
LaRuffa's '94-'95 teams were a combined 57-3. During his time at Fountain Valley, he's had several players go on to professional careers: Steve Montgomery (Class of 1989, Pepperdine/San Diego
LaRuffa's said his head coaching career has been full of several great moments.
"I've had too many memories to count," he said. "For someone who decided to teach and coach in the sixth-grade, and never changed his mind, I have been fortunate to have an unforgettable career. I have had amazing athletes, supportive parents and administrators who believed in what we were doing. Helping students develop and go on to be successful in life means a lot more to me then the wins and championships. We have built a family atmosphere at Fountain Valley High School.
"The decision to resign was made to prolong my career, not end it. Now I can concentrate I the things I enjoy — teaching baseball. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I am enjoying the game again."